Like many others, I have been watching the progress of the creation of the wonderful Gaian Tarot from Joanna Powell Colbert. Nine years is a long time to work on a single project, but the cards themselves are so visually stunning they have definitely been worth the effort and definitely worth the wait.
During my interview with Joanna, she revealed the reason she began the Gaian Tarot, and her inspirations along the way. In her own words, the Gaian Tarot is a fusion of her love of the rich archetypal imagery of Tarot and her love for the natural world. In my opinion she has done an excellent job too. In many ways this tarot deck is like no other. Of course there are other pagan decks available, and there are nature themed decks too; I don’t believe anyone one of them come close to capturing the spirit of Gaia the way Joanna has so expertly done. It’s testament to her connection with Mama Gaia that she embodies its spirituality to her core.
Gaian Tarot Deck Differences
It would take far too long to talk about all of the differences that can be found between the Gaian Tarot and other Tarot decks; and indeed, it would take away the fun and discovery you will have when you get your own copy of the deck. What I will focus on in this review will be the differences that mean something to me personally.
I have to point out that this review is based solely on the imagery and information that Joanna provides through her blog and website. On first inspection, and what is distinctly different about these Tarot cards, is their liberation from the constraints of academic and esoteric correspondences.
Touching Base With The Four Elements
Having spent the last couple of weeks researching the Gaian Tarot, I now realise that my own personal approach to the four elements has been academic and not holistic. I haven’t been looking at the four elements in a natural way, I’ve seen them as primary colours on a screen that help me read Tarot, but they are so much more than that and the Gaian Tarot has helped me to see this. It has become apparent to me at least, that in order to not just live more ethically, but to live in a more holistic way, I must embody the four elements into my core. I must go outside and touch and feel the four elements for a greater understanding of their possibilities for me. I haven’t even held the Gaian Tarot in my hands and yet it has deeply touched my core, such is the power of Gaia if you are open to its possibilities.
What Can You Expect From The Gaian Tarot?
Well, you can expect a whole new Tarot experience. You can predict anyone’s future with just about anything you can divine with, and you could do that with this Tarot deck too, but it would be a waste of a great opportunity to look deeper within, right into your life.
The Gaian Tarot approaches divination from a different angle, beginning with renaming many cards from their singular names. The Minor Arcana is no exception with changes also being made to the suits – they have been renamed according to their element – something I like very much! The traditional Tarot Court Cards have also been changed, depicting life through its stages, much more in keeping with the cyclical nature of Gaia.
The deck is in keeping with some basic tenets, there are 78 Tarot cards and an accompanying book. Having seen the first chapter about the Seeker (the Fool), we really are in for a treat. Joanna takes the standard and then sets it! Her website goes into great detail with the divinatory definitions and explanations of the cards, but the entry for the Seeker in the book is more than what you would expect, giving not just the meaning of the card, but also how you may connect with that card through exercises, affirmations and prompts to help with that connection.
As I said earlier, The Gaian Tarot does replace some of the traditional names of a Tarot deck and this is immediately apparent in the Major Arcana. I find these name changes more in keeping with the theme of earth based spirituality; and indeed the progression of earth based interests in this modern eco-aware era.
- The Fool becomes the Seeker
- the Empress becomes the Gardener
- the Emperor becomes the Builder
- the Hierophant becomes the Teacher
- the Chariot becomes the Canoe
- the Wheel of Fortune becomes the Wheel
- the Hanged Man becomes the Tree
- the Devil becomes Bindweed
- the Tower becomes Lightning
- Judgement becomes the Awakening
- the World, of course, becomes Gaia, the World
It’s not just some of the names that have changed in the Major Arcana, many of the traditional themes and divinatory definitions have been adjusted, expanded upon and brought into the Gaian world and lifestyle. Purists may frown but I believe when Tarot progression is done well, and it has been done exceptionally well with the Gaian Tarot, then it can only seek to enrich everyone’s experience of Tarot – surely that is a universal goal.
To see exactly what I mean by adjusted, expanded upon and brought into the Gaian world and lifestyle; let’s take a closer look at just one Major Arcana card in the Gaian Tarot deck.
Spinning The Wheel
The Wheel is a card that speaks to me the most when I look at all of the Major Arcana. Visually it depicts the changing seasons and how the tree changes during those seasons from barren to full bloom. As in the familiar Wheel of Fortune, the Wheel does show changes; times will be rich and bountiful and at other times it shows that life can be harsh. The difference I feel with the Gaian Wheel is the removal of the ‘luck’ element, or being at the whim of the gods. Change is the only constant, and like the seasons, the Wheel of life will keep on turning regardless of where we are and what we’re doing. This card to me, suggests that we need to learn to turn with the Wheel, to go with its flow in the cycle of life. Reinforcing the cyclical nature of the Wheel is the representation of the Moon outside the Wheel, shown in her eight phases. Surrounding the Moon are prayer beads so we may communicate with Mama Gaia and the touch I like the most – the butterflies: symbol of transformation, change and growth. Or as Joanna puts it “butterflies — symbol of the soul — break free of the turning of the Wheel.”
The Minor Arcana
One of the most intriguing changes made to the Minor Arcana is the change of suit from the traditional Wands, Cups, Swords and Disks (or Pentacles), to the more appropriate Fire, Water, Air and Earth. This is one of the more liberating aspects of this deck, no correspondences, no associations; just pure elemental essence and something we can immediately connect with and seek deeper union with.
There are so many wonderful cards I could talk about here, but I have to be strict and have decided to keep my Minor Arcana exploration to one card per Element.
- Three of Air
- Traditionally the Three of Swords – associated with heartbreak, sadness, misery etc. In the Gaian Tarot, the Three of Air represents those times when you’re troubled and replaying various scenarios over and over in your mind. The advice from this card is to channel that mental energy into a positive experience by journaling your thoughts and using that as an exercise to learn from them; by focusing the mind we are bringing our creative centre back into alignment, helping us to become productive instead of destructive.
- Nine of Fire
- I particularly like the Nine of Fire. When we consider the divinatory definitions of the Nine of Wands in other decks – personal power, strength of character; this card is a wonderful expansion of that idea showing us that personal power comes from within. This card isn’t about physical strength, rather it advises us to centre ourselves, reconnect with source to replenish our chakras, enabling us to have innate inner power that doesn’t control but assists us on our spiritual journey.
- Nine of Water
- Staying with the Nines but moving onto Water, we have a wonderful card that has a unique story. The model in the Nine of Water is none other than Joanna herself, calling out to the Ocean Mother in Merlin’s Cave at Tintagel in Cornwall, England. I have been in that very cave and it’s truly a magical place; being inside the earth, but walking in the ocean waters, the smell of the salty air makes the whole experience evocative and soul lifting – a fine representation of the happiness associated with this card.
- Five of Earth
- There is hope and advice to be found in each and every Gaian Tarot card. The Five of Earth is no different, and I’m mightily happy about that. Being out in the cold is one thing, knowing how to ride out the storm is another. We all have more resources than we realise or credit, this card shows us we do have resolve in times of trouble, but sometimes we don’t need to fix anything, just ride out the storm and wait for the leaves to settle.
The Court Cards – Gaian Tarot Style
Another change that I like is the renaming of the Court Cards. I find the traditional Court Cards somewhat antiquated in this modern age and so anyone who expands on the idea of the ‘people’ cards is onto a winner in my opinion. Joanna gives the best description in the book accompanying the deck:
Instead of reflecting the class-based society of Renaissance Europe, these cards correspond to the stages of life: childhood, early adulthood, midlife and old age. There are two males and two females in each category, which is also different from the traditional Tarot.
- The traditional Pages have become Children. They symbolize the qualities of discovery and birth.
- The Knights have become Explorers. They seek challenges and embody the principle of growth.
- Queens are now Guardians. They are productive and involved in the community; they represent the concept of fruition.
- Finally, the Kings are Elders. They give counsel and stand for the qualities of dissemination and release.
The Gaian Tarot Oracle
I had great fun with this! Before I began the actual writing for this review and the preceding interview, I consulted the Gaian Tarot Oracle and asked for clarity about how I should proceed, one of those what do I need to know type of questions.
At the homepage of the Gaian Tarot Oracle, you are asked to focus on your question then click on the image of the cards to receive your reading. Three cards are dealt in the following positions:
The Opportunity – The Challenge – The Resolution
I was bowled over! What totally appropriate cards. My own immediate interpretation was that a great opportunity was before me, a gift from the gods; and that my challenge was to do it well, fairly and honestly. My resolution reinforced my challenge in that I had an opportunity to shine, to produce good work if I could bring together all of the factors that might hinder me; all that lies at odds within myself.
Without even looking at Joanna’s divinatory definitions for her Tarot cards, I could feel the spiritual nature of the reading gently pulling and tugging at me, showing me something I had known all along but perhaps had chosen not to see. Here, in this reading, Mama Gaia showed me I needed to rise to the occasion, to stand tall and embrace my opportunity as this was also an opportunity to overcome many inner barriers and heal myself of negativity and doubt. It was a powerful reading, just three cards, from a deeply spiritual Tarot deck that promises so much but more importantly, delivers.
Joanna Powell Colbert may well have produced her magnus opus and I’m awfully glad she did. This deeply profound and rich deck will be a mainstay for many Tarotists for many years to come. It’s depth of vision, clarity and hope all work to empower the reader into a better understanding of themselves and their lives through the natural world, a world we could all do with embracing despite the apparent global shift to Gaian consciousness. It’s required on a personal level, not just a global one; we could all benefit from reaching out to Mama Gaia and letting her touch our hearts and minds and reconnect with the spirit of serenity and grace. It’s my belief that by using the Gaian Tarot for personal development and betterment, we can do just that. This beautiful set of tarot cards speak directly to your soul; what a wonderful achievement that is, and what joy must belong to Joanna for gifting the world with the means to find ourselves again.
The Gaian Tarot will be published by Llewellyn in September of 2011, with a Collector’s Edition available Spring 2010, which can be pre-ordered soon. Please see Joanna’s website, Gaian Tarot, where you can also see all the images as well as divinatory definitions of the completed cards; or her blog, Gaian Tarot Artist’s Journal, where Joanna keeps her fans and admirers up to date about the Gaian Tarot and its progression toward completion.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Collectors Edition or receiving special discounts and other surprises, can sign up for the Gaian Tarot Newsletter.
The Gaian Tarot was published by Llewellyn but is now being released by Schiffer Books in June 2016.